Sunday, March 27, 2011

How ghosts actualize

Have you ever worried that you'll die on the same day as someone like Meredith Vieira? Cuz on that day, your loved ones will be gathering in sorrow, and someone will have read in the newspaper that she died, and say "Hey, did you hear Meredith Vieira died today too?" And then your 8 year-old grandson who has no clue who that is will be like "Who's Meredith Vieira?" And then they'll have this long discussion about who she was and what she did... Remember how she hosted "who wants to be a millionaire" and that a baby cold have done a better job hosting. How she somehow rose to the top of network programming despite the obvious shortcoming of having a totally bland, uninteresting personality. And then your relatives will start to feel bad for her. Meanwhile, you're dead and pissed that your family is mourning Meredith freaking Vieira. And that the day that you died will forever be correlated with hers. So like three years later, people will be like "Hey, remember three years back when Evan died? Sad day" And then someone else will say, "Oh yeah, that was the same day Meredith Vieira died." Thus explaining ghosts.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

death of music

Recently something pretty drastic has happened to me -- I can't enjoy the mindlessness of popular music. The place it had in my head has died. This has caused me to reflect on it's life, and what caused it to decay so quickly.

Indeed, the life of my enjoyment of popular music was short, lasting only about five years. When I was young, I didn't buy cds or listen to the radio outside of it serving as my alarm clock in the morning. The notion of popular music was not approved by my parents, both Peabody Institute educated with a library of knowledge on how to appreciate more complex and sophisticated music. Their idea of how best to plant the seeds of their music was the same method that china uses to get people to buy into their government (sorry for the china reference, but it's still in me), namely obfuscate the outside influences and hope whatever is inside the walls is absorbed and embraced. Not that I have anything against the strategy, although it did make assimilation into normal society a rockier road. That's probably for the better though, I've never felt that doing what was popular was for me.

That is, until around the time when I was able to drive a car. I was about 19 at this point. This allowed me to escape the social norms of the house, and one of the results was being able to find out what music was able to survive in urban America financially. That is of course indicated by what is on radio stations.

This logically led me to conclude that their popularity indicated their superiority. This is not hard to conclude. Indeed, if some kind of music was good, it must have been marketed to the radio stations. After all, radio stations are trying to make money, and to make money they need to be listened to, and the best music would get the most number of listeners, therefore warranting air time. Thus, the best music was on the radio stations. Unfortunately, this logic is flawed in that the radio stations aren't playing the best music, just the safest music. That is to say, the music which is proven to appeal to the lowest common denominator by virtue of a top 100 list, which is arranged by number of requests each song has accumulated. Of course, any song on the list had been played on the radio station in the first place, so there's no possibility of a write-in. So the top 100 list is like choosing the sport you'd play in gym class. Some will choose volleyball, some will choose the official sport of satanism (water polo). But in the end, you're choosing something on the list. Obviously this isn't the most shocking development, and I knew this all along, and everyone else listening to the radio knows this, but it was easy to overlook the flaws because some of what was on the radio station, admittedly, sounded good.

Jazz listening slowly crept into the rotation later on, around the ages of 21-22. I moved to China, which didn't really effect my listening to music except for making it much more accessible. You could download music from Google's front page. Or Baidu's front page.

And then about a week ago, I was listening to katy perry being played on the radio station for the billionth time, and wondered why I was putting up with it. Not only in the sense that it sounded very bad, and it did. But the fact that the same exact song had been played about 20 minutes beforehand on the same radio station was like the radio station telling me I'm an idiot. Out of spite, I started listening to public radio and a waltz was playing. And it was something you actually had to think about. No more overanalyzing why that idiot rhymed "firework" with "colors burst". That doesn't fucking rhyme, by the way. Nor does it with "what you're worth". Dammit. Instead I was listening to professional musicians who'd spent a lifetime perfecting their instrument working together to play a piece of music which flowed on it's own, each aspect contributing something unique and appreciable, something you could either really think about a lot, or just relax to without thinking at all. Now I'm fully aware that music like this is definitely for me, and that while there will definitely be a song in the popular music realm that I will like from time to time, it's definitely not for me.

Various other things which contributed to the death of popular music:

- The Black eyed peas at the super bowl
- Fergie's terribly botched facelift
- Fergie's addition to the black eyed peas
- Mystikal spending 10 years in jail
- Kesha's birth
- Jay-z's opening to "umbrella"
- DJ tall kathy's utter lack of talent
- Guests on maury doing the "lean with it, rock with it" dance when discovering they are not the father
- Young dro's name
- Baby Sham's verse in "We could take it outside" from the Busta Rhymes album "when disaster strikes" (There's a reason you've never heard who this is, please never listen to this)

I'll probably think of others later

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stayin' sane

OK so, long time no post. I found this in my "draft" folder in my e-mail, which at the time was an attempt to stay connected with people. That was my new year's resolution for 2010, hence the effort. But it was a mild effort, and obviously I am not as well connected as I had hoped. Anyway it's funny to read now, 4 months removed from the experience.


--Some time in 2010--

First, blogspot is blocked in China. So if you were wondering why I wasn't posting, you might have assumed that nothing really interesting was happening with me. Coincidentally, nothing was really happening at the time it got blocked. So I guess the timing work out perfectly. Now you might be wondering, how did he post this? I wish the answer was using a proxy server, but I haven't gotten that to work (thus also explaining my absence from facebook). I gave in, and gave my little sister my google password. So I guess I did sortof use a proxy...

There's nothing really specific I can think about to discuss. Everything has become normal. Some of it has become bothersome, and I keep having to tell myself that they just have totally different brains than I have. It's truly a remarkable place though, that fact has not been lost on me, even after a year plus.

I think I get this place now, or at least the gist. You see people squatting in the street while eating a bowl of noodles out of a paper bowl, grandmothers carrying babies wearing pants which completely expose the baby's ass. These things are normal. After a while, you get used to it. But there's no way around it: As open as I am to other cultures, Wuhan is the least civilized place I've ever known. People often act very brutishly, yet there’s still an air of confidence and nationalism. They’re stuck deep in traditions, habits, pastimes that have been a part of their culture for thousands of years. I think this is mostly due to two things, isolation (in terms of both inability to travel outside China and inaccessible outside media), and the vast number of people (the cause of everything in China). The confidence and nationalism can be explained easily -- Most people in this city have never seen what it’s like in other places, thus the assumption of normalcy. But they can also see what’s happening on their streets, they’ve been seeing it most of their lives – a massive effort of economic growth. But while the layout of the city changes monthly, traditional thought doesn't change so easily...

I was going to meet a friend in Hankou. I plowed my way through the sea of pedestrians, who wave their arms blindly and look in directions other than the one they are moving, totally oblivious to the concept of order in achieving their goal of getting to point B. I arrived at the bus stop, which was almost the length of a football field, and, conveniently, found the schedule at the farthest point. Now we were meeting at a station called "Han Kong Lu," and I know the characters for "Han" and "Lu," so I was able to find my bus relatively easily. This was something I became very proud of being able to do, by the way. Even through frosted, scratched plastic and faded graffiti, I can read the necessary characters to arrive where I need to go.

You really can't appreciate how big Wuhan is. 8 million is such an easy thing to say. But nobody really has a concept of how big that is. Wuhan officially has that many people, not including the migrant workers and other unregistered citizens. Add those into the equation, and it's closer to 10 million, maybe even more. Now, I live basically in the center of Wuchang, one of three major districts in Wuhan. I was meeting my friend in downtown Hankou, one of the other three major districts. To get there, the bus ride was going to take an hour and a half. With no traffic, it's thirty minutes. The whole time, you are riding through a forest of giant buildings. The horizon is close enough to walk to, because of the smog.

So I hopped on the 715 and crammed in. I had an hour and a half to avoid stares. I thought to myself, 60 years ago, Mao Zedong founded the PRC. And 60 years later, it's doing pretty well. There's a lot of good things happening here, the city that I have come to know certainly didn't look this way back in Mao's day. It's become much more modern since then. But, there's also a ton of problems. Lots of people have shitty, dead end jobs, some even have really seamy jobs. Prostitution is supposedly illegal, yet there are brothels located across the street from government buildings, advertising proudly in illuminated pink lettering. Living conditions aren't good. Most apartment buildings you see are pretty run down and unattractive -- each window is encompassed by a prison-like cage. Next to every window is the end of a metal ventilation duct where burning cooking oil is fanned out of, underneath which you see obsidian streaks on the dusty concrete.

What would China be like today if Chiang Kai-Shek had won instead of Mao? While interesting to think about, it’s too involved for me to take a simple guess. I’d bet, though, that Wuhan people, in the capacity that I’ve seen them (that is to say, random on-the-street encounters), would be exactly the same as they are now. If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, you know that it is possible for native Chinese people to obey western customs such as letting people out of a bus before entering it. That said, Hong Kong is not Wuhan by any means. In fact, Wuhan is a city whose size is unmatched by any US city, except New York. So could Chiang Kai-Shek have brought prosperity to Wuhan faster? Probably. Globalized faster? Definitely. Made the size of Wuhan bigger or smaller? Definitely not. Changed the culture at all? Maybe in the sense that they’d be more aware and accepting of other cultures, but otherwise, I doubt it. Something that feels omnipresent by living in Wuhan — your needs are more important than others. That’s tangible here in bus rides, trips to the market, traveling, etc. It’s like this because Wuhan people are living in a giant place where it’s basically impossible to be considerate. If you let cars merge in front of you, you’d be sitting on the street for hours until you decided you’d had enough and subsequently cut somebody off, like you’re supposed to. It’s not so obvious in America’s politically correct culture, super-sensitive to others opinions. But when the cabin pressure is low, you put on your oxygen mask first, and then you assist others. That's pretty obscure, but still.


Haha, so weird message, and obviously very unfinished. I think I was mad at Wuhan traffic when I wrote this.

That is, if anyone can read this!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

So far

I've got some time on my hands, so I'll do a little recap of some of the main events that have happened for me in 2009 so far:

  • The first school semester came to an end -- with it was a dinner that the department paid for to reward it's employees for their hard work. Wisely, I brought a camera.

The biggest table I've sat at so far. Before everyone sat down, they made a huge deal out of me and Michael sitting down first, and made sure that we sat facing the door. The location of your seat and the order in which you sit is apparently a sign of respect. We just wanted some grub.

Michael knew what he was getting into. He's done this before. Me.... I sorta had an inkling, but it was made immediately clear as soon as I tasted a microscopic amount of bai jiu (white wine). The bai jiu they make in China fucks you up.

A dinner like this isn't really a dinner. I mean, for me it is. I calmly sit down, taking as much of the food in as I could, drinkin a little bai jiu here and there... This dinner started with a table-wide toast, then some more toasting between certain employees at the table, and then everyone sat down, which was my cue to eat. Mostly everyone else, though, walks around the table with the glass of bai jiu in their hand, toasting each other for a job well done.

It takes about 30 minutes before everyone's wasted. The older guys from my office who can't speak a word of English start to give me cigarettes, which there's no way for me to refuse politely, so I take them and try to not look like a joker. The little girl in this picture definitely made a toast with me, which was not fair at all cuz I had this monstrously alcoholic drink, and she had orange juice or something. Michael and I enjoy a good drinking time, so this kinda thing only boosts our image in the eyes of our coworkers. Drinking is always a great way to bond with the people you associate with.

  • New foods -- I was able to scratch many different items off of the "things I have never eaten" list. My ballpark guess is around ten. I am also becoming a big fan of "huo guo" style restaurants. Huo guo means "hot pot." You get this sesame paste on the side as a dipping sauce... it kinda tastes like peanut butter except it's a bit more liquid. My bosses took me to a huo guo place before the holiday where I ate a bunch of really crazy crap.

It's probably pretty obvious how this works. They give you a plate of some ingredient, e.g. potatoes, lotus root, thin slices of meat, cabbage, tofu, etc., and then you let the ingredient settle in the hot pot for an amount of time of your choosing. Root vegetables stay in the pot for 5-10 minutes, while the meat and leafy vegetables usually only takes about 30 seconds to cook (the meat is in very thin slices). Remember though, this place was pretty fancy, so there were more unusual ingredients being offered. First, beef lung. Really wish Mr. Dong hadn't told me what that was. This actually isn't that fancy of an ingredient, but in some places in China it is a delicacy. Second, Hard boiled quail egg. I've always wanted to try these and they were good! I mean, they were basically just like normal eggs, but smaller. Third, and most disgustingly, duck blood. I know, it doesn't make sense. It was explained to me by Steven as duck blood, I checked to see if he knew what blood meant, and he definitely knew. I don't know what to say about this. It actually wasn't bad. I'm never eating it again, but not bad.

Oh yeah and that's sea cucumber. Pretty special thing to eat apparently, but disturbing as hell to eat an entire animal, let alone one that looks like that. When you eat it, you can feel every detail... it's smooth exterior, thick gelatinous skin, and "ambrulacal feet" covered underbelly.

  • Gym -- I've gained about 7 pounds since the beginning of the year, and am about 7 pounds away from my arbitrarily chosen target weight of 77 kg (170 lbs). I've been pretty true to my new year's resolution so far, going to the gym at least 4 times a week since early February. Though I'm still drinking more coke than I want... baby steps I guess.

  • Poker -- I play poker about once a week. I haven't lost money in a long time. In fact, I haven't needed to go to an ATM for cash in about a month. I don't joke around when I'm playin. I mean I joke around, just, I like winning.

  • Chinese -- I have a tutor, she's been teaching me a ton of stuff, not only about the language, but also about the geography, culture, etc. I think it's a good investment at this point, cuz I really think my speaking is coming along quickly. The language has a bunch of hard words to memorize, but a lot of words are just simple combinations of other words. For example, Cell phone = shǒu jī = "hand machine." That's a pretty logical connection. Another example, bread = miàn bāo = "noodle bag". Bread can easily be seen as a noodle bag. For some reason I am pretty good at memorizing sounds (probably a result of my line-memorizing days in theater class), so I'm at the point now where I can talk to people for extended periods. Of course I sound like a clown, but they're very tolerant of my inability.

  • And finally, I decided to stay in China for another year. The why would take too long to explain...I guess simply put, I like it here. I want to find out how I can use what I know, what the long term plan should be for me, and how best to go about doing that. But nowadays, these things revolve around my head with another idea -- finding out how I can do all that in a place like this. I don't know what I'll find out, but these days, I'm starting to feel strangely confident about how my future is starting to shape out. Very odd indeed hehe

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wuda making news

The big news around campus is about a mother and daughter, who recently visited the campus to have their pictures taken under the cherry blossoms. Perfectly normal -- the only problem was that these Chinese women were sporting Japanese Kimonos (which, btw, are hot as hell if you ask me). They were verbally harassed to a harsh extent, enough that my boss (Mr. Dong) felt ashamed on behalf of the university.

The event really brings to light the awkwardness of these trees. I guess I'd never really thought about the context that much... I mean they're so beautiful, people pay to get into the university to visit them. The university advertises them in their brochures and website. And yet, they can be seen as a symbol for a very dark period in China's history, one which has certainly not been forgotten. Many older Chinese people still feel a strong bitterness towards the Japanese, and the relationship is certainly awkward to say the least.

Mr. Dong tried to explain the situation to me. He read an article which wondered if the students took it one step further. These trees, like Kimonos, symbolize Japan. So the article raised the issue: if it's ok to harass people wearing Kimono's, it suggests that what has happened in the past between Japan and China should be eschewed, in which case the cherry blossoms should be cut down from the campus. Although the trees serve as a beautiful, although disturbing, reminder of what occured, I'm sure most people agree that what happened should not be forgotten, and that their patriotism can be more displayed in more respectful ways. After all, that's what the article told them to think... :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You know it's Spring in Wuhan when...

Small history lesson: In 1938, the Japanese and Chinese were in the middle of the second Sino-Japanese War. As both Beijing and Nanjing had been taken by Japan, Wuhan became the wartime capital of China because it was a hub of industry and transportation (having both the Yangtze River and several important railways). The Japanese predicted that the fall of Wuhan would be too harsh a blow to the Chinese, who had already succumbed much of their country to Japanese control. Thus gave way to the battle of Wuhan, a major battle which ended in Japan victory. The Japanese military chose the most beautiful area of the city to set up shop -- Wuhan University.

So the school is pretty famous for its beauty -- The architecture has a unique style, the university is built around a mountain and next to a lake, and the plant life is as various as it is pretty. BUT, as if it wasn't beautiful enough, every year around this time, the cherry blossoms that the Japanese planted here begin to unfold. People from all over come to the campus to see them.

I took some photos cuz I told my dad I would as a way to do something for his birthday, so here are some of the highlights:

The rest are here

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just to get the wheels movin again...

It's been awhile... There is some good to it though -- I've been keeping myself pretty busy for the last few months.

The social life's changed a lot. I've met several expats through poker games, business dinners, and sometimes just an odd circumstance. The two guys I hang out most with are chris and johnny, because the three biggest ways I enjoy spending my free time here are also their favorite things to do -- poker, frisbee, and going to the gym. They also live very nearby.

They're both nice guys. Chris is from North Carolina, went to Haverford, and is teaching at a university like me. He's very charming and definitely a talker, but despite this, he finds himself getting people a little uncomfortable and sometimes angry at him. Johnny was born in China, moved to New York when he was seven, and came back to Wuhan after college for studying, though he still works as a teacher. Johnny is in great shape -- he goes to the gym very often and is really into frisbee and poker. He's definitely a smart guy and likes to control and set up things. Both of them have sortof been showing me the ropes of life around here.

It ain't all sunshine though. When my little sister got her first job, she was being shown around by her boss, a person whom she could immediately tell didn't respect her. She was introduced to a few of her coworkers, "Hey guys, this is Mimi. She's the new girl here, so she doesn't really know anything." Hehe. But it's kinda the same feeling when I'm with these guys. The conversations are usually more about them educating me about what impressions they have of life around here than anything else. That's fine, but the problem is that I'm not being perceived as a peer. If I try to talk about something else, it's quickly extinguished. If I try to tell a story, I get halfway through it.

I wish I was a clever writer. I'd probably try writing a book about living here and the relationships I've made. The clever part would come when I'd subtly indicate that my interactions with the Chinese people and with the Americans here are equal in the sense that a lot of what I say is falling on deaf ears. The Chinese, because they can't understand what I'm saying, and the Americans, because they don't really care. There's some strange common bond between the majority of people here that I'm still trying to figure out. Maybe it's because they're all teachers who, like me, spend the majority of their time preaching to a bunch of people who can't fully comprehend what they're saying. Or maybe it's because they're all americans, I mean I guess it used to be pretty hard to find people who listened well.

Don't worry though, there are exceptions. It's funny that the person whom I most enjoy talking to is still Ms. Han, who's command of English is, at best, basic. She still gets most of my social time, and deservedly so. She's a beam of energy, and is always smiling despite her shitty as hell job. I bring her flowers pretty regularly just to keep charming her for being such a great friend.

Other than all that drama, and teaching, the next biggest time-eater is that I'm getting tutored in Chinese. A girl, Li, comes over to my house twice a week for about 40 rmb/hour. My latest big accomplishment with Chinese -- talking with a cab driver for the entire ride to class.

Not sure what else to say. I'm still enjoying my time here very much. I guess I should say that I'll try very hard to get back to the pace of updating that I was goin at before. It's still pretty interesting to live here i guess :)